Protocol, Prevention And Pro-Action

By Beth Morrow

When the economy takes a nosedive, camps and organizations that sponsor camps take a real interest in cutting expenses and maximizing savings. Bargain-shopping for arts-and-crafts supplies, finding reasonably priced guest speakers, and freezing staff salaries are a few of the ways to lower expenditures.

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While there may be other areas where pennies can be pinched and purchases evaluated against true needs, the safety and security of campers, staff and administration cannot be compromised. Nothing is a better marketing agent than the reputation of a camp. Every dollar spent maximizing camp security is well-invested.

Budget cuts that set in motion a cycle of assessment and realignment can benefit every good camp program. If you are seeking ways to improve camp safety for little or no expense, consider three suggestions:

Revisit The Rules
Even if your camp goes through some type of evaluation and/or accreditation process on a regular basis, chances are the process is generally one of breadth and not depth. Rules are created at a point in time to lower or eliminate the chance of a particular mishap occurring, and to maintain order. As time goes on, however, campers and staff--as well as their use and interaction with camp grounds and activities--change.

As a veteran member of a camp that caters to teenagers with diabetes, I’ve witnessed the amazing growth of medical advancements in treating the disease. When I began 17 years ago, pre-meal injections were given in the cabins. With the introduction of short-acting insulin several years later, some campers barely made it from their cabin to the porch of the dining lodge before their blood sugars bottomed out. In subsequent years, medical staff re-evaluated the safety aspect of injection rules and, as a result, modified the rules to allow medical staff to adjust mealtime injections.

There’s no denying that policies and rules need to be firmly established and rigorously followed to maintain camp safety on a daily basis. Schedule a session with camp administrators and directors to revisit camp regulations. Consider all aspects of camp rules when updating rules and policies. Grounds, programs, kitchen/food services, counseling, admissions, records and maintenance all play critical roles in the success of a camp.

Stay A Step Ahead
Preventing future accidents through the analysis of past incidents doesn’t cost much--aside from time--but can yield positive results.

If you don’t already have data on past or recurring safety and security concerns, there are a number of simple methods to gather the information you’ll need. Formal accident reports are helpful, but only give information on the major problems. Walk around with a notebook or clipboard while camp is in session with the sole purpose of looking for potential concerns. Don’t waste time looking for trouble occurring in your presence. Instead, view the activity or situation through the lens of possible trouble that can be avoided.

One favorite activity of our campers and staff is an all-camp Capture-the-Flag game played in a large field. The sides of the field slope downward into the woods, making the act of hiding the flag all the more secret from the other team--while adding a risky element to each team seeking the flag.

In past years, these sloping sides also provided a minimum of three to four accident reports a year and often one or two ambulance runs. The medical director wanted to ban the game, and we did so for one year, but it was a camp tradition, and efforts to replace it with more tame versions in different camp locations were unsuccessful. A group of veteran staff members took on the task of evaluating other ways to play the game more safely. A lengthy discussion revealed the game had always been played in the morning when the grass was still wet, causing slippery conditions that led to most of the injuries. The medical director allowed the game to be played in the afternoon the next year. The result was no injuries and many happy campers.

When you and/or staff finish reviewing incident reports and share the findings of camp observations, can you detect any patterns of smaller, recurring incidents that, with minor tweaking or discussion, might eliminate a safety or security hazard?

Get It All Together
Protocol, prevention and pro-action are outstanding ways to boost camp safety. Without proper preparation of current staff, however, all the hard work and hours spent fine-tuning will be a waste. Implementing changes based on research at the ground level with staff--and campers--is the real key to improving everyone’s well-being.

Rule changes and operational improvements must be a part of training of new and returning staff. It is your choice whether to share the reasons behind the changes, as you may have questions simply out of curiosity. Returning staff members and campers often take a special pride and ownership in camp, and letting them know the reasons why new rules are being implemented might make them more likely to observe and note potential problems in advance.

To change the injection protocol mentioned above, medical directors presented the updated policy to both the medical and program staffs as part of pre-camp orientation. Informing the medical staff only would have led to programming staff questions and medical staff being the front line of information. This would be unfair to both parties.

With updated rules, remember to thoroughly instruct everyone prior to launch; deliver a clear course of action and expectations to eliminate any uncertainties. If necessary, practice the new action or process through drills or role-playing. Most importantly, be sure staff is confident in its knowledge before moving forward.

When it comes to improving camp operations with a limited budget, making financial decisions is never an easy task. Maintain the integrity of the camp and its program by spending more time and attention--not necessarily money--on upgrading safety and security procedures by getting back to the basics: policies, protocol, prevention and pro-action.

Beth Morrow is a freelance author, educator and member of the Central Ohio Diabetes Association’s Youth Committee and Camp Leadership teams. She has served for 16 years as Senior Week program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential, age-based, week-long residential camp for diabetic youth. Reach her via e-mail at: beth@bethmorrow.com.